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What Impact Will Donald Trump’s Presidency Have on Inbound Tourism?

Culture Wars

Will the election of Donald Trump to the presidency of the United States have a negative impact on inbound tourism?  If so, how much and for how long? Will it cost the country jobs?  Or did the pundits get things wrong - again?

Usa-washington-dc-white-house-us-travel-association
Will Donald Trump rename the White House the Trump House? Photo Credit: Credit: U.S. Travel Association.

According to The Independent, a leading British newspaper, as many as 1.8 million fewer British tourists will not visit the United States next year as a result of Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States.

To put that figure in context, about 3.8 million Brits visit the United States on average each year, so a 1.8 million decrease in British tourism would work out to a nearly 50% drop in visitation.

That’s quite a drop!

“Following confirmation of a win for Donald Trump in the presidential election today, we’re now forecasting an unstable 2017 for U.S. tourism, with over one million UK travelers set to reconsider the country as a holiday destination,” said Joel Brandon-Bravo, UK Managing Director for Travelzoo, a travel booking website.

The prediction was based on a survey conducted by Travelzoo shortly before the bitterly fought election.

According to the survey, one in nine respondents said they would probably not visit the United if the Republican presidential nominee won the election.

Not only that, fully one in five respondents would definitely not consider visiting the United States if The Donald were elected.

The figure was even higher for the British capital. Fully three out of 10 Londoners said they would not fly across the pond if Donald Trump were elected Leader of the Free World.

Dire Prediction

Euromonitor International issued an equally dire prediction.

“Trump has campaigned on an America-centric platform, including language and proposed policies that are inflammatory towards minorities and immigrants, as well as a foreign policy consisting of ‘peace through strength’, through abrasive rhetoric towards key trading partners, including China and Mexico,” the market research body said.

“While Trump’s policy goals and the methods he suggests to achieve them have evolved as the campaign has gone on, several key campaign ideas have included …

  • “Banning Muslims or residents of terrorism-afflicted countries;
  • “Deporting the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the US and building a wall to separate the U.S. and Mexico;
  • “Renegotiating key trade agreements such as NAFTA and increasing tariffs on imported goods.”

That’s quite an Inflammatory laundry list of proposals! Could it backfire on the U.S. if implemented?

“These ideas are positioned as protecting the livelihoods of Americans and ensuring America is taken seriously by the international community, but, if enacted, all would have negative effects on the travel and tourism industry,” the research body said.

O! Canada!

All of which begs the question: can Canada cash in on a possible "Donald Trump effect"?

If Europeans in general – and Brits in particular – decide to give the Land of the Free a wide berth, will they decide to head north of the border instead?

There were reports that at the World Travel Market, which was being held in London when news of the Trump victory broke, representatives of the Canadian travel industry “were quietly jubilant because they believe they will be the beneficiary of displaced tourism to the U.S.,” the Independent reported.

And what about Mexico?  If Canadians decide not to visit the United States, might they consider wintering in Mexico instead? Cancun is just a few hours further away from Toronto than Fort Lauderdale.

The Donald seems popular in Russia and - for different reasons - Slovenia. Could tourism from these countries pick up some  of the slack?

Brave Face

The travel industry in the United States, meanwhile, put on a brave face, with the U.S. Travel Association President and CEO Roger Dow expressing optimism for the industry's ability to work with a Trump administration on infrastructure and other important travel-related issues.

"I congratulate President-elect Trump on behalf of the U.S. travel and tourism community, and am confident that he will be a valuable ally in advancing some of our industry's key priorities," Roger said.

"Mr. Trump demonstrated throughout his campaign that travel and infrastructure issues have his attention, and we stand ready to advise his administration on achieving his stated aims in these areas.”

Travel accounts for fully 10% of U.S. exports, creating jobs in every single congressional district in the country.

"Mr. Trump has explicitly highlighted the challenges facing our nation's airports and our aviation security system on his path to the White House,” Roger said.

“He has voiced great enthusiasm for modernizing our roads, rails, and airports with his promise to invest $500 billion in infrastructure reform.”

Mexico and China

According to a report issued by the U.S. Commerce Department last October, four countries were expected to account for 56% of expected tourism growth between 2014 and 2020:

  • Mexico – up 27%;
  • China – up 19%;
  • Canada – up 5%;
  • United Kingdom – up 5%.

Ironically, the two countries expected to fuel the lion‘s share of this growth were the two most frequent targets of vitriolic Donald Trump attacks during the presidential campaign: Mexico and China.

Could a Trump presidency result in resentment that would cause would-be Mexican and Chinese tourists to cancel their plans to visit the United States?

Is this just another ill-advised example of biting the hand that feeds you?

While Chinese tourists are the fifth largest international market in terms of visitation numbers in 2015, they were the single largest source of international tourism spending in the United States.

Simply put, the Chinese spend more money when they travel in the United States than any other nationality.

In 2015, Chinese tourists spent an average of US$7,164 during their trips to the United States, which is nearly one-third higher than the international average.

Can the President of the United States afford to offend such an important source of tourism revenue?

Reality Check

When push comes to shove, any impact is likely to be short-lived. That’s what usually happens in situations like this.

Despite on-going political tensions between China and Japan over the sovereignty of islands in the South China Seas, tourism between the two countries is at an all time high.

Street riots, bombings, the closing of an international airport, a tsunami, and repeated military coups in  Thailand have failed to cause more than temporary blips on the tourism radar screen.

The kingdom remains highly popular with foreign tourists.

Hotels and airlines offer special promotions, and before you know it, things go back to normal. Often a crisis raises a country's profile. Following a brief drop in arrivals, things actually get better in the long term.

And there’s another issue. If so many different pollsters across United States got the outcome of the U.S. election so totally wrong, what makes you think a poll taken by a travel website would be any more accurate?

Sometimes poll-takers say what they think pollsters want to hear.

For every Brit that decides to cancel travel plans to the United States because The Donald got elected, there will be another Brit that decides to visit the United States because The Donald was elected.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the American travel industry have been greatly exaggerated.

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